Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ghost City Hill Climb ... Jerome Arizona

The scream of engines echoed off the gray-brown weathered wooden structures and steadfast brick veterans of the past. The early miners and towns-people of this hillside place that called it home would have been party to the same vistas, but not the angry machines. This was the "Ghost City Hill Climb" organized by the Four Cylinder Club of America, Phoenix Chapter, during the years 1959 to 1964.

Map of the "Ghost City Hill Climb" in Jerome. Notice the corners named, "Murphy's Leap" and "Morgan's Roll."




The town of Jerome, a copper mining town that was founded in 1876 rose to a population of 15,000 in its heyday in the late 20's then dropped to about 75 hardy souls after the mine closed in 1953. It was nothing more than a reclusive hermits hideaway and ghostown when the racers came to play.

At the May 21st event in 1961 more than 4,000 sports car fans came to watch as 96 cars twisted their way up the narrow hay lined streets to the center of town. The starting line was drawn on the pavement at the old Jerome High School the same location of the pits. After leaving the start, there was a fast climb through the residential area onto an open section with houses looming high on the hills to the right and a sheer drop-off on the left overlooking the silent diorama below on the valley floor. The circuit then made a pair of sharp turns into the main business district.

The course of one and one-eight mile, has a record to this date held by, Bob Montana in a Lotus at 51.1 seconds. The perpetual cup that was given each year was an old spittoon, dubbed the "Cuspidor Cup." Eventually Jerome residents, after witnessing several spectacular accidents with cars such as Porsche Speedsters, a Morgan and a Triumph, petitioned the State to enact stiff insurance regulations which proved too high to cover, so the "Ghost City Hill Climb" went away leaving the town today as a tourist and artist community. However, in wild places such as this, the elements that dot the hillside contrive to present themselves as they've always been.

These photos are from Mickey Pleasant, a blog follower who was fortunate enough race his "Bugeye Sprite" in the days that events like this thrived.

Jerome as it appeared in the mid-fifties.

Looking from the "Bugeye," all participates received a "Parade Lap" with passengers for a look at the course. Image © Mickey Pleasant.

Pre-grid line with Mickey's Sprite, number 56, in line after a Triumph and Porsche Speedster. Image © Mickey Pleasant.

Mickey ready to unleash the Austin Healey Sprite at the starting line. Image © Mickey Pleasant.

The final corner in town before heading to the finish line. Image © Mickey Pleasant.

This was "Morgan's Roll" corner heading through town. Mickey made the front page of the local Gazette newspaper, image © Charles D. Barton.

Pit area where everyone could check out each others rides. Check out the '55 Chevy with number 62 taped on, also the white walls on the white Bugeye. Back then, competitors drove their cars to the event. Image © Mickey Pleasant.

Mickey preforming some final adjustments on the Austin Healey Sprite. Note, race tires were street tires. Image © Mickey Pleasant.

Pit area next to the Jerome High School. The High School is now used by artist as studios.
 Image © Mickey Pleasant.



Patch from the Jerome "Ghost City Hill Climb."

Time to party at Spook Hall.

The Jerome "Ghost City Hill Climb" pit pass.

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21 comments:

  1. Hi John! My Dad, Carson, sent me to your blog. I'm now living in Arizona and love this info about the Ghost City Hill Climb to Jerome. I had no idea! I have visited Jerome several times and thought those roads would be fun to road race - turns out they did! See you at the Historics. Best, Lauren

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  2. Marty emailed: Hi John,

    Jerome is one of our favorite spots to visit (I first went there 35 years ago), but I had no idea it had an auto racing history. Thanks for the story.

    Marty

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  3. Great photos! Often motorsport history of small or short-lived events have little to remember them by, other than a snapshot or two. Thanks for the glimpse back.

    After looking at the route using Google Maps, it's clear that a minor mistake could get you into major trouble. A quaint looking little town with way more buildings now, which would be even more treacherous!

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    1. Thanks Russ,

      Mickey gave me lots of photos to work with for more posts.

      John

      PS. But I'm aways looking for more.

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    2. Love the throwback !!

      Ghost city --- who knew ? And Spook Hall ? I would give my eyeteeth and then some for a decal or a patch from 62
      mrgreenjeans

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  4. I have lived in the valley below Jerome for 40+ years now and have heard many a story about the old hill climb. I was told that Mr. Morgan of “Morgan’s roll” lost a finger in that accident. (To be clear it was named for the man, not the car manufacturer as he was driving a Porsche 356 coupe and not a Morgan.) Murphy’s leap was named for a fellow driving a Ferrari that supposedly left the road and cleared the roof of a house. Great stories but they are surely a bit embellished as time marches on... Although the Jerome Historical Society does have 8mm film of the Porsche roll-over. Sadly they don’t have a lot of information in their archives related to the Ghost City Hill Climb events. I have read through it all looking for information on a ’56 Austin-Healey 100 that I bought about 25 years ago. It supposedly had raced in this event, (along with other events in Arizona “back in the day”) but I have not had any luck in my searching… It is really great to see the photos posted here as they are some of the best I have seen of this race.

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    1. J. ...great info! It would be great to see that film!

      John

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    2. Hi J. Tom I also live in the VV I know of a 1956 AH100-4 that was raced at every opportunity. It was wrecked in 57 and i lost track of it.ODDS ARE SLIM TO NONE that it would be your car.I have a couple of photos somewhere. If you wish contact me at 649-0535 Frank

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    3. i lived in jerome on the upper hogback next to matt partridge whose father was a dentist. from 59-64. he drove a prettied up early 50's chevy pickup...saw many races and crashes up close during the hillclimb. all kinds of sports cars. we got to talk to the racers. my house is seen in several photos on the upper hogback. the cars are parked on the mingus hs playground. i used to neck with girls behind the gym . we practiced football on the gravel yard. those were they days. thanks for the photos. jerome at that time was called 'ghost town'. guess the pr folks changed it to 'city', that's a hoot. a guy i played football with became the mayor back in the late 70's.

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  5. hi john I rember there being four jerome hill climbs and i ran three of them.the first one in 1959 i drove my buddys mg td both doors opened on the final turn,which was to the right (towards perkinsville).I knew Bob Montana. I rember his car as a massarati with a slant6 aluminum block chrysler engine.My car?? was an A40 austin chassis with a fabricated?? aluminum body?? a real budget racer! the last year i ran it turned a time in the upper 50,s about 5th over all out of more than 100 entrys.My friend , Rick Bennewitz, mg owner, was driving a triumph tr2 and became airborne between turn2 and 3 hit a guy wire off a power pole and the stone retaning wall about 4 ft off the ground ,cracked his helmet and destroyed his car. I still see the wrinkle in the guy wire sheild every time i pass by

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  6. I was in Jerome over Thanksgiving and saw some pictures and a short video of these events. I am so happy to have found this site to fill in many details and questions. Thank you so much for making it available;

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  7. Great blog man! I also left Jerome wanting to know more about the Ghost City races and this is about all I found. Now I'd like to see if we could get that footage played at the museum uploaded to you tube and figure out what the histories on the Packard and Rolls at the asylum are!

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    1. 500 cc racer- As a teenager in phoenix around 1960 I watched my neighbor, Jack Evans, construct a tiny tube-chasis open wheel racer specifically for the Jerome hillclimb. It was powered by a JAP (JA Prestwich) 500 cc single cylinder motorcycle engine. He later claimed to have won his class although I don't recall ever seeing a trophy. And really, a 500cc car class? The only car engine this tiny I'm aware of was in the Fiat 500, a car so pathetic you would have timed it with a calendar, not a stopwatch. As noted,the historical society drew a blank. Still, I would love to see the scoring results.... Eric Okrasa ericokrasa@yahoo.com

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    2. HI Eric In 1961 a Jack Evans drove H mod # 88 a mk1 spc to a time of 60.55 sec first in class. His competion was a Crosley Spc that finished in 125.5 sec. Overall winner that year turned a 53.1 so jacks time was more than respictable

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    3. The Phantom I Rolls and Packard 180 are just collected by the owners of the Jerome Grand Hotel. They have no historical connection to Jerome.

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  8. I was a 4-Cylinder Club member in Phoenix for five years, but unfortunately after the last Ghost City Hill Climb. Following monthly meetings we often stayed on to see home movies of the hill climb. I recall that one film showed racing up the long incline below the high school. There must have been a longer course one year. I did work hill climbs in Bisbee, Morenci and Sedona in the later 60's and still have my '57 MGA with dash plaques from these events and some time distance Ralleys. All organized by the 4-Cylinder Club, a fun group of people. I was still in college when working the Sedona Hill Climb and thinking this would be a great place to retire. This proved to be prophetic. I visit Jerome often now and was delighted to find a little museum with a small poster of hill climb photos.

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  9. Lots of history here. Are they currently running races? If you don't have a classic, I would bet that a Mazda Miata would work well there.
    -Bruce

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  10. Very cool to find this. I have a picture of my father racing in the 1959 Ghost City Hill Climb in a Triumph TR3.

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  11. The Clifton Hill Climb is being held again September 5th-7th, 2015. cliftonhillclimb.com for more information.

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